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In What Ways, If Any, Does the Role of the Esp Teacher Differ fro...

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In What Ways, If Any, Does the Role of the Esp Teacher Differ from That of a Teacher of ‘General English’? and, to What Extent Is It Necessary for the Teacher of Esp to Have Knowledge of the Student's Subject or Professional Discipline?

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  • October 2010
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In what ways, if any, does the role of the ESP teacher differ from that of a teacher of ‘general English’? And, to what extent is it necessary for the teacher of ESP to have knowledge of the student’s subject or professional discipline?

For reasons of space and focus this essay will concentrate on what has historically been the most important branch of ESP, namely English for Academic purposes.[1] The role of the EAP teacher does have significant areas of overlap with that of a general English teacher, (or with any other kind of teacher) but there are differences and these are pointed out. The question of content knowledge is a thorny issue but a hard line is argued here. I assert that discipline specific knowledge is not necessary for an EAP teacher if, and only if, he or she concentrates upon the numerous transferable skills crucial for any successful EAP course. For reasons of focus and argumentation, the second half of the essay will make reference to a specific teaching context, one which has high relevance to the issues raised by the question.

Let us kick off with a definitional distinction. John Swales (1985) prefers the term “ESP practitioner” to “teacher” because of the numerous tasks that ESP practitioners will have to concern themselves with outside of the classroom. Now, of course a teacher of general English will have to prepare for lessons and evaluate homework (unless they work for Berlitz), but it is unlikely that they will have to spend anything like the amount of time that an ESP teacher will spend on matters such as needs analysis, syllabus design and production of materials. Context would seem to be the issue here: it is scarcely an exaggeration to say that every time an ESP teacher takes on a new class he or she will be faced with a group of students who have needs which will not be satisfactorily met by an extant coursebook. And so the practitioners will need to find out what the group’s needs are and then knead, or create from...